Why You Should Get Your Homocysteine Levels Checked
The book Ultraprevention asks us some quiz questions in the beginning. One of the question is what test should you have your doctor order that would give you inside information to help you prevent cardiovasular disease, dementia, and some forms of cancer.
The answer is checking your homocysteine. On page 17, it writes ...
"More than any other single test, homocysteine correctly identifies the risks of such conditions as heart attack, stroke, and dementia years before the onset of any symptoms. More important, if found to be elevated, homocysteine can be easily lowered using the correct dose of B vitamins such as folate acid, B6, and B12."
This is not to say that cholesterol test and blood glucose test are not important. They still are. But homocysteine can detect imbalances in the body way before you develop high blood glucose levels in your blood.
The book continues...
"the higher the homocysteine level, the higher the risk of heart attack, stroke, and lack of circulation to the arms and legs. Although homocysteine is a naturally occurring compound, excessive accumulation can damage the blood vessels." [page 41]
Why High Homocysteine is bad
Homocysteine damages the arterial walls and causes plaque to form there. The Heart Revolution says that homocysteine is the cause of arteriosclerosis, not cholesterol.
The book writes ...
"Homocysteine is the missing link that explains all the known risk factors of heart disease: aging, genetic predisposition, hormonal factors, smoking, toxins, exercise, drugs, and, of course, diet. Homocysteine is the answer research has been looking for." [page 178]
and that ...
"Homocysteine is intimately involved in the aging process and certain other diseases, including Alzheimer's, arthritis, and cancer." [page 4]
You have heard that LDL is "bad cholesterol". LDL is a lipoprotein that carries cholesterol. But another thing that LDL lipoprotein carries is homocysteine. So LDL may be bad because of its homocysteine cargo.
What can cause high homocysteine levels
Homocysteine is an amino acid in blood. Our bodies make homocysteine from methionine, which we consume in the form of food. Methionine is an amino acid found in all proteins.
Animal proteins are molecularly different from plant proteins. Because animal proteins has more methionine, animal proteins tend to raises homocysteine levels more than plant proteins.
The author of UltraPrevention writes...
"whereas the proteins in vegetables, containing different amino acid structures, do not raise homocysteine. Thus an excess of animal protein in the diet may cause harm, whereas consuming many plant proteins won't." [page 157]
If the body is taking in more methionine than it needs, you end up with excessive conversion of methionine into homocysteine. Normally, this is not too big of a problem, because the body is self-regulating. When there is excessive homocysteine, the body will convert the homocysteine into cystathionine which the body can safely excrete. However, in order for the conversion of homocysteine into cystathionine to take place, the body needs adequate amount of vitamin B6.
The body can also convert homocysteine back into methionine. This requires the action of enzymes. And these enzymes needs vitamin B12 and folic acid in order to do its work.
So vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid have all been shown to lower homocysteine levels. Folic acid is a B vitamin; it is B9. Folic acid is metabolize into its active form inside the body.
The problem of high homocysteine occurs when the body is taking in too much methionine resulting in high homocysteine and there is not enough B vitamins to decrease homocysteine levels.
High homocysteine is due to inadequate consumption of vitamin B rich foods such as leafy greens. It is also due to over consumption of processed foods which are devoid of B vitamins.
What May Also Cause High Homocysteine
In general, homocysteine levels tend to increase as we get older, possibly due to reduced methylation and poorer absorption of B vitamins.
Alcohol, smoking, and certain drugs can also raise homocysteine.
Obesity is associated with higher homocysteine.[reference]
A study found that "caffeine is partly responsible for the homocysteine-raising effect of coffee." But the effects are not great and is nothing a healthy person should worry too much about.[reference]
Vitamin B Helps Lower Homocystiene
Folic acid, B6, and B12 either in foods or in supplements have been shown to lower homocysteine levels. Learn more about the important health benefits of vitamin B.
For those who like to eat a lot of meat, make sure you eat even more vegetables in order to get enough folic acid and B6. This ensures that the excess homocysteine produced from the methionine in animal proteins can be converted back to methionine or cystathionine.
B12 is primarily found in meat and dairy and fish. Vegans who do not eat animal products may want to supplement their diet with B12 pills or shots.
Vitamin B's are water-soluble vitamins. So they do not accumulate in the fats of our body. Hence it is rare that they become toxic levels, unless you take extremely high doses. The doses in health food supplements and multivitamins are certainly safe.
NAC may help lowr Homocysteine Too
Some studies have also shown that the supplement N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) can also help lower homocysteine. Some of these studies includes...
High Homocysteine May Be a B Deficiency
Because B vitamins lower homocysteine, a high homocysteine in the blood may indicate that one may be deficient in B vitamins. We know that B vitamins are important for the brain and helps reduce risk of Alzheimer's. Hence, high homocysteine is sometime associated with increase risk of dementia.